The Heart of the Matter at Coquette
I try not to repeat myself in this column. Because restaurants of note keep opening in New Orleans at a rapid pace, I certainly don't have to. That means, however, that I don't get to return to my favorite restaurants as often as I'd like. I know, it's a hard life I lead.
Recently my colleague and part-time scoundrel Ian McNulty wrote about a meal at Coquette wherein he'd sampled lamb heart. Coquette is one of about a half-dozen restaurants which, when I eat there, always prompts the question, “why haven't I eaten here more often?” McNulty's piece – and the generous offer of lunch from a friend – tipped me in that direction.
The menu has changed a bit since I was last at the restaurant. Chef Mike Stoltzfus is one of those cooks who makes the “committed to local ingredients” thing meaningful. He cooks with what's available by the season for the most part, and there's probably no better evidence of that than his local vegetable salad. I have a story about that dish. Stoltzfus was invited to participate in an event put on by an outfit called StarChefs back in April. It was a fairly swanky event, held at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and a host of local chefs were there presenting food. Most of the restaurants participating went with meat or seafood of some sort. Stoltzfus put out a plate of locally grown baby vegetables, simply presented. He won best of show that night, and while I tasted a lot of good food that night, most of it far more elaborate, I was in full agreement with the judgment.
That dish has been refined a bit for the restaurant's menu, and of course the contents change with the season, but the plate on offer at the moment is every bit as good as what he did that night in April. Baby vegetables combined with satsuma, a very subtle cashew purée, and a garnish of “olive praline,” which is a dust made of dehydrated olives that I know sounds odd but which on the palate is pure freaking bliss. It's an outstanding dish.
The lamb heart is not on the lunch menu, but I whined, and they said they could do it. The heart is a hard-working muscle, meaning that it's going to be tough as all hell unless prepared right. Stoltzfus solves this problem by slicing it very thinly before grilling it; it's still chewy, but not unpleasantly so. It's also an excellent example of how something as simple as the right cut can make all the difference. The slices of lamb come with pickled vegetables that set off the hearty flavor of the meat.
After the lamb and the vegetables, I was more or less full, but I'd also ordered the pork as an entrée, and it came with brussels sprouts, a sweet potato purée and apples. I did not eat dessert, which is a shame, because Coquette has some pretty kick-ass desserts.
Coquette has also started brunch service on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and while most of the menu will be familiar if you've been for lunch or dinner, there are a few new items on offer. Scrambled yard eggs are served with bacon, homefries and grits; eggs benedict come with smoked pork ribs and hollandaise; and Coquette's version of shrimp and grits features shiitake mushrooms and bacon as well as cherry tomatoes.
Coquette is located at 2800 Magazine St., and you can contact the restaurant by calling 265-0421. Lunch service is Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner is served nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.